Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Will Libya extradite ex-spy chief to US over Lockerbie?

[This is the headline over a report published yesterday on Voice of America's VOA Africa website. It reads in part:]

The recent handover of a former Libyan intelligence officer by the Tripoli-based government to the US for his alleged involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has sparked speculation that an ex-Libyan spy chief could be next.

Questions about the potential extradition of former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi have been circulating after US authorities earlier this month announced Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, accused of making a bomb that killed 259 people aboard a Pan Am flight and 11 on the ground in Scotland, was in their custody.

The potential extradition of al-Senussi, currently serving time in Tripoli for his involvement in crimes committed under the Gaddafi regime, could lead to a trial for his alleged involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. This would mark a significant turning point in the long-standing investigation into the 1988 terrorist attack.

Al-Senussi's family has appealed to Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to release him.

"This is the final warning to the Libyan government: If Abdullah al-Senussi and his comrades are not freed, all viable resources in the south will be put to a halt," al-Senussi's son told local news on Monday.

Al-Senussi, who is also the brother-in-law of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, hails from al-Magarha, a tribe renowned for its ties with the former regime and its influence in southern Libya.

During a recent interview with Al Arabiya, a pan-Arab news channel, Dbeibah denied any intention of extraditing al-Senussi to the US.

"All of these are fabrications and media exaggeration," he said.

Political analyst Ibrahim Belgasem told VOA said that “Libyan law does not allow the extradition of Libyan citizens for trial in a foreign country,” adding that Libyan citizens “feel very sensitive about this case as they suffered years of sanctions and were isolated from the world.” (...)

In 1992, after Libya refused to extradite suspects al-Megrahi and Fhimah, the United Nations imposed an air travel and arms embargo on the country. This embargo was later broadened to include an asset freeze and a ban on the export of certain goods to Libya. (...)

In 1999, the Libyan government agreed to transfer the two suspects to the Netherlands for trial, following negotiations led by Nelson Mandela and the Saudi government with the US and UK.

In 2001, al-Megrahi was found guilty while Fhimah was acquitted and returned home.

In 2008, Libya reached an agreement with the US to establish a process for resolving claims by American citizens and companies against the Libyan government, thanks in part to the Libyan Claims Resolution Act (LCRA), a bill sponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden.

The LCRA was passed following the settlement reached between the Libyan government and the families of the victims, which included a payment of $2.7 billion.

Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was the sole individual to be convicted in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. Despite maintaining his innocence, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ultimately served only seven before being released on compassionate grounds due to terminal illness. He died in Libya in 2012.

In 2020, US Attorney General William Barr announced new charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, for his role in building the bomb that killed 270 people.

Earlier this month, US law enforcement officials confirmed Al-Marimi was in custody for his alleged role in Pan Am Flight 103.

"The United States lawfully took custody of Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi and brought him to the United States where he faces charges for his alleged involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," the White House said in a statement on Dec 14.

Libya has no extradition agreement with the US and details about the handover remain unknown. (...)

It took the Libyan government three days to admit its role in the extradtion, causing hundreds of Libyans, including Al-Marimi's family, to protest condemning the prime minister.

Abdulmonem Al-Marimi, nephew and spokesperson of Masud’s family told The Associated Press that "everyone knows that this thing must be done according to Libyan laws, but unfortunately the government handed him over, bypassing all Libyan laws.”

"Our demand is from the Attorney General that we hope that he will take measures regarding the Prime Minister [Abdul Hamid Dbeibah], who admitted and said that he's the ones who extradited him,”Al-Marimi added.

If the possibility of extraditing al-Senussi to Washington arises, "there is concern that his supporters, who hold significant sway in sensitive areas of Libya such as the oil fields and water resources in the south, could cause unrest in the country," Belgasem said.

This concern is supported by the fact that al-Senussi's family has twice disrupted the water supply for over 2 million people in the city of Tripoli, once over the kidnapping of al-Senussi's daughter and the other when the family attempted to secure his release.

Political analyst Salah Al-Bakoush, however, told VOA that might not happen this time around and if it did, "General Khalifa Haftar controls the south, so the US could push him not to allow al-Sanussi's family to create any trouble in that region."

Al-Bakoush also said al-Senussi's extradition to Washington is "highly unlikely" at least until the public outrage over the extradition of Al-Marimi subsides.

Sunday 11 December 2022

Lockerbie bombing suspect in US custody

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

A Libyan man accused of making the bomb which destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie 34 years ago is in United States custody, Scottish authorities have said.

The US announced charges against Abu Agila Masud two years ago, alleging that he played a key role in the bombing on 21 December, 1988.

The blast on board the Boeing 747 left 270 people dead.

It is the deadliest terrorist incident to have taken place on British soil. (...)

Last month it was reported that Masud had been kidnapped by a militia group in Libya, leading to speculation that he was going to be handed over to the American authorities to stand trial.

In 2001 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of bombing Pan Am 103 after standing trial at a specially-convened Scottish court in the Netherlands.

He was the only man to be convicted over the attack.

Megrahi was jailed for life but was released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer.

He died in Libya in 2012. (...)

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said: "The families of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have been told that the suspect Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi ("Mas'ud" or "Masoud") is in US custody.

"Scottish prosecutors and police, working with UK government and US colleagues, will continue to pursue this investigation, with the sole aim of bringing those who acted along with Al Megrahi to justice."

[What follows is excerpted from a report just published on the website of The New York Times:]

The arrest of the operative, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud, was the culmination of a decades-long effort by the Justice Department to prosecute him. In 2020, Attorney General William P Barr announced criminal charges against Mr Mas’ud, accusing him of building the explosive device used in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 passengers, including 190 Americans.

Mr Mas’ud faces two criminal counts, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death. He was being held at a Libyan prison for unrelated crimes when the Justice Department unsealed the charges against him two years ago. It is unclear how the US government negotiated the extradition of Mr Mas’ud.

Mr Mas’ud’s suspected role in the Lockerbie bombing received new scrutiny in a three-part documentary on “Frontline” on PBS in 2015. The series was written and produced by Ken Dornstein, whose brother was killed in the attack. Mr Dornstein learned that Mr Mas’ud was being held in a Libyan prison and even obtained pictures of him as part of his investigation. [RB: A critical commentary by John Ashton on the Dornstein documentary can be read here.] 

“If there’s one person still alive who could tell the story of the bombing of Flight 103, and put to rest decades of unanswered questions about how exactly it was carried out — and why — it’s Mr Mas’ud,” Mr Dornstein wrote in an email after learning Mr Mas’ud would finally be prosecuted in the United States. “The question, I guess, is whether he’s finally prepared to speak.”

After Col Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s leader, was ousted from power, Mr Mas’ud confessed to the bombing in 2012, telling a Libyan law enforcement official that he was behind the attack. Once investigators learned about the confession in 2017, they interviewed the Libyan official who had elicited it, leading to charges.

Even though extradition would allow Mr Mas’ud to stand trial, legal experts have expressed doubts about whether his confession, obtained in prison in war-torn Libya, would be admissible as evidence.

Mr Mas’ud, who was born in Tunisia but has Libyan citizenship, was the third person charged in the bombing. Two others, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were charged in 1991, but American efforts to prosecute them ran aground when Libya declined to send them to the United States or Britain to stand trial.

Instead, the Libyan government agreed to a trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law. Mr Fhimah was acquitted and Mr. al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. (...)

Prosecutors say that Mr Mas’ud played a key role in the bombing, traveling to Malta and delivering the suitcase that contained the bomb used in the attack. In Malta, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah instructed Mr Mas’ud to set the timer on the device so it would blow up while the plane was in the air the next day, prosecutors said.

On the morning of Dec 21, 1988, Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah met Mr Mas’ud at the airport in Malta, where he turned over the suitcase. Prosecutors said Mr Fhimah put the suitcase on a conveyor belt, ultimately ending up on Pan Am Flight 103.

Mr Mas’ud’s name surfaced twice in 1988, even before the bombing took place. In October, a Libyan defector told the CIA he had seen Mr Mas’ud at the Malta airport with Mr Megrahi, saying the pair had passed through on a terrorist operation. Malta served as a primary launching point for Libya to initiate such attacks, the informant told the agency. That December, the day before the Pan Am bombing, the informant told the CIA that the pair had again passed through Malta. Nearly another year passed before the agency asked the informant about the bombing.

But investigators never pursued Mr Mas’ud in earnest until Mr Megrahi’s trial years later, only for the Libyans to insist that Mr Mas’ud did not exist. Mr. Megrahi also claimed he did not know Mr Mas’ud.

Friday 17 February 2023

Trial of kidnapped Libyan could unravel entire US Lockerbie bombing narrative

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri published in the current issue of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. It reads in part:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 74, a Libyan national, appeared in a federal court in Washington, DC, on Dec 12, 2022, charged in connection with the bombing that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland while flying from London to New York.

 According to US prosecutors, Mas’ud made the bomb that blew up the plane on Dec 21, 1988, killing 270, including 11 people on the ground. Two other Libyans have been tried for the same crime: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted while his co-accused Lamin Fahima was acquitted in 2001. Al-Meghrahi protested his innocence until his 2012 death from prostate cancer in his Tripoli home. In fact, his conviction was widely criticized by the legal community and by United Nations observer Hans Kochler, who cited “foreign governmental and intelligence interference in the presentation of evidence.” 

Mas’ud’s kidnapping and subsequent “extradition” to the US started in the poor suburb of Abu Salim, south of the Libyan capital Tripoli, where armed militias roam freely. 

On the night of Nov 16, 2022, Mas’ud was getting ready for bed when half a dozen unmarked cars pulled up in front of his home. Four masked and armed men forced their way into his bedroom, dragged him out in his pajamas, shoved him into one of the cars and drove away. One of the masked men told the small crowd that quickly formed in the street that Mas’ud would be back soon. Abdel Moneim Al-Maryami, the family’s spokesman and Ma’sud’s nephew, described the shock for onlookers who “watched helplessly.” 

That evening Mas’ud had just returned from his third visit to the hospital in a week. The septuagenarian suffers from a host of illnesses made worse during his decade-long incarceration in the notorious Al-Hadba prison in Tripoli, accused of preparing car bombs in Libya’s 2011 civil war. The US Justice Department alleges that Mas’ud first confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb in Al-Hadba prison, but the former director of that prison, Khalid Sharif, denies that Mas’ud ever made such a confession while he was there. Sharif, now living in exile in Turkey, was one of the top leaders of the organization known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 2004 the US listed this Afghanistan-based group as terrorists but unlisted it in 2015 after it participated in the 2011 US-NATO supported armed revolt that toppled former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s government.

The following morning the family started searching for Mas’ud, a daunting task because different militias have different detention centers. After a week and multiple visits to the headquarters of different militias, the offices of the prime minister and the prosecutor general, and different detention centers around Tripoli, Abdel Moneim was told where he was and allowed to visit him. 

In detention Mas’ud told his visitors that nobody “interrogated him,” let alone explained why he was detained or by whom. Family members continued visiting until one day his son, Essam, went for a visit but was told his father had been taken to Misrata, some 186 miles (300 km) east of Tripoli. “He was handed over” to Joint Force, a notorious and powerful militia, Essam said. 

No one mentioned the idea of handing him over to the US. In fact, Essam said, “they assured us that he was being kept there for his own safety.” Other family members had filed a kidnapping report with the police. Government officials denied knowing anything about the kidnapping. The prosecutor general denied issuing an arrest warrant and promised to investigate the matter. 

Mas’ud made headlines on Dec 21, 2020, the 32nd anniversary of the bombing, when then-US Attorney General William Barr accused him of assembling the bomb and handing it over to Al-Megrahi in Malta. 

Libyan laws do not permit the extradition of its citizens to stand trial abroad, and it has no extradition treaty with the US. In a BBC interview in 2021, Libya’s US-educated foreign minister, Najla El-Mangoush, said her government was “open” to the idea of extraditing suspect Mas’ud but “within the law.” Faced with a huge public outcry, El-Mangoush denied that she ever said she was open to Mas’ud’s extradition, forcing the BBC to release the video clip of the interview in which she made that claim.

The US and Libyan governments knew that Mas’ud could not legally be transferred to the US so they colluded with Joint Force, a militia loyal to Tripoli’s government, to grab him.

Just before midday on Dec 11, 2022, some Pan Am Flight 103 victims’ families received an “urgent update” email from the Scottish authorities updating them on their efforts to prosecute Mas’ud. The message’s closing line said the US “has obtained custody” of him. 

I was in Paris, waiting for news because a friend had already alerted me to expect some. His family first heard the news from me after I spoke to their spokesman Abdel Moneim that morning.

On Dec 12, Mas’ud limped into Judge Robin Meriweather’s DC courtroom where he told the judge that he “cannot talk” before meeting his attorney. A day later, a Libyan businessman told me that he was ready to fund a defense team. But appointing the right defense team thousands of miles away is not an easy task for his family who are still in shock and confused by the conflicting advice they are getting from friends and volunteers trying to help them. 

The fact that he was kidnapped should be reason enough to halt any further legal proceedings against him. But the US has a history of kidnapping suspects and sending them for interrogation to countries that use torture liberally. 

On two previous occasions, US commandos kidnapped suspects from Libya to try them in the US. Ahmed Abu Khatallah,  was kidnapped in 2014, and tried and convicted in the US for participating in the 2012 attack on the US compound in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In 2013 Abu Anas al-Libi was snatched and taken to US for trial accused of planning the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He died of cancer in custody days before his trial. For this third kidnapping the US outsourced the dirty work to a local militia.

The news that Mas’ud had been kidnapped was condemned by Libya’s parliament, High Council of State (a consultative body), the national security adviser and the minister of justice. They also warned that handing him over to the US would be illegal and an infringement of Libyan sovereignty. However, none of them knew exactly what happened, and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Debeibeh kept silent. The uproar was repeated when Mas’ud was reported to have been sent to the US.

The public reaction has been supportive of Mas’ud and critical of the government in Tripoli. In a clumsy televised speech, Debeibeh attempted some damage control but instead made things worse. He said that “this man [Mas’ud] killed 270 innocent souls in cold blood,” but did not provide any evidence. Most Libyans mocked him and asked whether more Libyans would be sent to the US for Lockerbie bombing trials. 

Rumors of more extraditions of Libyans intensified in the wake of a Jan. 12, 2023 unannounced visit of CIA Director William Burns. (...)

A second Lockerbie bombing trial is very unlikely. US prosecutors will try to avoid such a scenario because it could lead to re-examining the whole Lockerbie trial evidence of 2001, as well as evidence that has emerged since Al-Megrahi’s conviction. Doing so could unravel the entire case and cast serious doubts about the evidence used to convict Al-Megrahi 22 years ago and raise questions about Libya’s responsibility for the bombing.

Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the bombing and now represents UK victims’ families, argues that the United Nations, not the US, should try Mas’ud. He said “no one country can be the plaintiff, the prosecutor and the judge” in this case. His compatriot, law professor Robert Black, thinks Mas’ud can still “get a fair trial” in a US court. The professor believes that US prosecutors must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Mas’ud made the device that destroyed the jumbo jet on that cold December night in 1988, that his bomb, and no other, caused the disaster and that Mas’ud knew that his bomb would be used for that purpose.

Professor Black, the primary figure behind the previous Lockerbie bombing trial in Camp Zeist under Scots law in The Netherlands, thinks it is not “essential” for US prosecutors to show how the bomb got on the plane in order to get a conviction. In such a scenario the evidence to convict Mas’ud will rest, heavily, on the analysis of the fragment of circuit board that the US claims was part of the timer that set the bomb off in midair. That tiny fragment, US investigators claim, was found in a Scottish field where debris from the plane was scattered. However, since that first Lockerbie trial, evidence has emerged demonstrating that the fragment was actually planted to frame Libya.

George Thompson, a former Scottish police officer turned private investigator, who has worked extensively on the case, claims to have the evidence to show exactly that. Thompson told me that he is ready to be a witness in the upcoming US trial, whenever that might be.

If convicted, Mas’ud is certain to face life imprisonment. In his first court appearance on Dec 12, prosecutors told him that they will not be seeking the death penalty. US former Attorney General Barr, in a BBC interview published the next day, said Mas’ud should receive the death penalty. Barr also said that Mas’ud’s alleged confession, should be admissible in court, despite concerns by others that it may have been coerced. 

Mas’ud’s trial could take months to start and weeks to end. Regardless of the outcome, most Libyans believe it will not bring us any closer to the truth about Lockerbie.

Thursday 22 December 2022

What might a second Lockerbie trial look like?

[This is the headline over an article by Dr Mustafa Fetouri just published on the website of the Middle East Monitor. It reads in part:]

Libyan Abu Agila Muhammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi will appear for the second time before a federal court in Washington DC next Tuesday where he will be told formally of the charges against him. Mas'ud first appeared in court eight days ago after he was kidnapped from his bedroom in Tripoli on 12 December. The US law enforcement agencies colluded with a notorious local militia to snatch the old man and take him to America.

In his first appearance in court the suspect refused to talk to the judge because he claimed that he did not have a lawyer. It was reported that he rejected the lawyer appointed by the court to represent him. His family is working to provide their own lawyer.

The 71 year old will face charges relating to his alleged part in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were killed when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. (...)

The US has always insisted on trying the Lockerbie case in its own courts but it failed to get access to the suspects as Libya refused to hand over its citizens to the Americans. After a decade of negotiations and political wrangling by the late Nelson Mandela and others, it was agreed to have the trial in Camp Zeist, in the Netherlands.

Today, 34 years later, the US appears to have its long-awaited Lockerbie bombing trial, the second in a case that is not only very old but also very complicated.

So what might second Lockerbie trial look like in a US court? What are the chances of Mas'ud being found guilty or acquitted? Furthermore, what will be the implications of the verdict on the whole case, particularly on the conviction of the late al-Megrahi whose lawyer, Aamer Anwar, has been trying to overturn his conviction, posthumously, since 2014 without success? Will Mas'ud's defence be able to convince the American jury that his client had nothing to do with the bomb that destroyed the doomed flight?

The US prosecutors have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, many things. For a start they have to establish a link between Mas'ud and the bomb in the first place and that he did, indeed, make the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988. The US alleges that he confessed to this in 2012 while being interrogated in Libya's notorious Al-Hadba Prison, south of Tripoli. Many question if such a confession is admissible in court given the conditions in which it was extracted. Former US Attorney General William Barr insisted recently that the confession is admissible in a US federal court. He even called for the death penalty if Mas'ud is convicted after prosecutors said that they will not seek capital punishment.

Al-Hadba has a terrible reputation. In 2015, Human Rights Watch questioned the methods used to interrogate detainees, including senior former Gaddafi officials, one of whom was Gaddafi's son Saad. A Tripoli-based legal expert who requested anonymity said, "Only a kangaroo court might accept anything let alone a confession from Al-Hadba Prison."

Moreover, to get a conviction, US prosecutors must convince the jury that it was a bomb made by Mas'ud, and no other device, that destroyed the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet on that cold evening as it flew at 31,000 feet. The prosecution apparently rests on the US allegation that Mas'ud handed over a Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb to Fhima, who dropped it into the Pan Am Flight 103 luggage feeder at Luga Airport in Malta. Proving that Mas'ud was in Malta on 21 December 1988 might be easy, but proving that he actually took the explosive-laden suitcase and handed it over to Fhima is a difficult one. Any evidence presented here will be circumstantial as there are no witnesses to testify to seeing Fhima and Mas'ud at the airport or anywhere else in Malta 34 years ago.

One expert on the case, Scottish law Professor Robert Black, told me that he thinks the "crux of the case" against Mas'ud will be whether it "can be proved beyond reasonable doubt" that he manufactured the bomb that destroyed the aircraft. This would lead to issues connected with the timer alleged to have been used to detonate the bomb. Tiny fragments of that timer were, allegedly, found among the wreckage in a field almost a year after the disaster. More evidence emerged after the first trial in Camp Zeist, though, suggesting that that "evidence" was planted by US investigators to frame Libya. According to George Thompson, a private investigator who worked on the case, the type of timer said to have been used in the bomb was not in production in 1988.

The third issue is that the US prosecutors have to explain, convincingly, how and where the bomb got into the luggage hold area of the Boeing 747. The 34-year-old official US narrative is that the suitcase with the bomb inside came from Malta and was fed into Pan Am Flight 103A at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. The plane then left for London Heathrow Airport ... However, since the 2001 trial more evidence and testimonies have emerged challenging that theory.

Mas'ud's best chance of acquittal or getting a lenient sentence rests on his defence team's ability to reopen the entire Lockerbie issue. For any trial to be fair it must consider the Lockerbie bombing as a single case and the US should not cherry-pick what it likes to advance in its line of argument.

I believe that it should be an international court that tries Mas'ud, not a US federal court. The late Nelson Mandela, who mediated between the US, Britain and Libya to arrange the 2001 trial, once said, "No one country should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." However, that is exactly what the US is in Mas'ud's case. Is that fair? And does it mean that his chance of a fair trial is very, very small indeed?

So what might a second Lockerbie trial look like? A "kangaroo court" perhaps?

[RB: I am not an American lawyer, but in my view the precise mechanism whereby the bomb got onto Pan Am 103 won't loom large in the US trial. As I understand it, under the relevant Federal legislation (see US Department of Justice outlines allegations against Masudall the prosecution has to prove is (a) that Masud made the bomb (b) that he knew it would be planted on an aircraft and (c) that his bomb was so planted and led to the destruction of Pan Am 103. Proving precisely how the device got onto the aircraft would not be essential to getting a conviction. Establishing Masud's guilt does not require proof of how his bomb got onto the plane, whether via Malta, Frankfurt or Heathrow ingestion.

I think the crux of the case will be whether it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was a Libyan bomb, manufactured by Masud, that brought the plane down. So the evidence that has emerged since Zeist about the metallurgy of the fragment of circuit board alleged to have formed part of the bomb timer will be vital: Lockerbie: Bomb trigger or clever fake?]

Tuesday 13 December 2022

US Department of Justice outlines allegations against Masud

[What follows is excerpted from a press release issued yesterday by the US Department of Justice:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Mas’ud), 71, of Tunisia and Libya, made his initial appearance in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on federal charges, unsealed today, stemming from the Dec 21, 1988, civilian aircraft bombing that killed 270 people. The victims included 190 Americans, 43 citizens of the United Kingdom, including 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, and citizens from the following countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago.

On Dec 21, 2020, the Department of Justice made public a criminal complaint charging Mas’ud with destruction of aircraft resulting in death, and destruction of a vehicle used in foreign commerce by means of an explosive resulting in death. The United States subsequently requested the publication of an INTERPOL Red Notice – as is typical in cases involving foreign fugitives – requesting all INTERPOL member countries to locate and arrest the defendant for the purpose of his extradition or lawful return to the United States to face the charges. On Nov 29, 2022, a federal grand jury formally indicted Mas’ud on the same charges contained in the criminal complaint. That indictment was unsealed today.

From the time the tragic events occurred in 1988 through the present, the United States and Scotland have jointly pursued justice for all the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. The partnership will continue throughout the prosecution of Mas’ud.

“Nearly 34 years ago, 270 people, including 190 Americans, were tragically killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Since then, American and Scottish law enforcement have worked tirelessly to identify, find, and bring to justice the perpetrators of this horrific attack. Those relentless efforts over the past three decades led to the indictment and arrest of a former Libyan intelligence operative for his alleged role in building the bomb used in the attack,” said Attorney General Merrick B Garland. “The defendant is currently in US custody and is facing charges in the United States. This is an important step forward in our mission to honor the victims and pursue justice on behalf of their loved ones.”

“Today’s action is another crucial step in delivering justice for the victims of the senseless terrorist attack on Pan Am Flight 103,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O Monaco. “Our thoughts are with the victims’ families, whose tireless work to honor the lives and legacies of their loved ones has inspired the Department of Justice and our Scottish partners throughout our investigation for the last 34 years. Let this be a reminder that the men and women of the Department of Justice will never forget the loss of innocent lives or waver in our commitment to holding terrorists accountable – no matter how long it takes.” (...)

Planning and Executing the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

The December 2020 criminal complaint alleged that from approximately 1973 to 2011 Mas’ud worked for the External Security Organization (ESO), the Libyan intelligence service which conducted acts of terrorism against other nations, in various capacities including as a technical expert in building explosive devices. In the winter of 1988, Mas’ud was directed by a Libyan intelligence official to fly to Malta with a prepared suitcase. There he was met by Megrahi and Fhimah at the airport. Several days later, Megrahi and Fhimah instructed Mas’ud to set the timer on the device in the suitcase for the following morning, so that the explosion would occur exactly eleven hours later. Megrahi and Fhimah were both at the airport on the morning of Dec 21, 1988, and Mas’ud handed the suitcase to Fhimah after Fhimah gave him a signal to do so. Fhimah then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt. Subsequently, Mas’ud boarded a Libyan flight to Tripoli scheduled to take off at 9:00 am.

According to the allegations in the complaint, three or four days after returning to Libya, Mas’ud and Megrahi met with a senior Libyan intelligence official, who thanked them for a successful operation. Approximately three months after that, Mas’ud and Fhimah met with then-Libyan leader Muamar Qaddafi, and others, who thanked them for carrying out a great national duty against the Americans, and Qaddafi added that the operation was a total success.

If convicted, Mas’ud faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the US Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI Washington Field Office is investigating the case along with prosecutors from the National Security Section of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the US National Central Bureau provided valuable assistance in this matter. (...)

An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

[RB: Here, for ease of reference, are the principal provisions of US Federal law that govern the charges brought against Abu Ajila Masud:]

18 US Code §32:

(a) Whoever willfully—

(1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;

(2) places or causes to be placed a destructive device or substance in, upon, or in proximity to, or otherwise makes or causes to be made unworkable or unusable or hazardous to work or use, any such aircraft, or any part or other materials used or intended to be used in connection with the operation of such aircraft, if such placing or causing to be placed or such making or causing to be made is likely to endanger the safety of any such aircraft; (...)

(8) attempts or conspires to do anything prohibited under paragraphs (1) through (7) of this subsection;

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

18 US Code §34 - Penalty when death results:

Whoever is convicted of any crime prohibited by this chapter, which has resulted in the death of any person, shall be subject also to the death penalty or to imprisonment for life. [RB: The Department of Justice has announced that it will not be seeking the death penalty in the case  of Mr Masud.]

18 US Code §842:

(p)(2) Prohibition.—It shall be unlawful for any person—

(A) to teach or demonstrate the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute by any means information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, with the intent that the teaching, demonstration, or information be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence; or

(B) to teach or demonstrate to any person the making or use of an explosive, a destructive device, or a weapon of mass destruction, or to distribute to any person, by any means, information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction, knowing that such person intends to use the teaching, demonstration, or information for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence.

18 US Code §844

(a) Any person who—

(1) violates any of subsections (a) through (i) or (l) through (o) of section 842 shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both; and

(2) violates subsection (p)(2) of section 842, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Lockerbie bombing suspect's arraignment deferred amid delays securing a lawyer

[This is the headline over a Reuters news agency report published this afternoon. It reads as follows:]

The arraignment of a Libyan intelligence operative suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and killed 270 people was deferred on Wednesday due to delays and challenges securing a defense attorney.

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is the first suspect in the attack to face criminal charges in the United States.

The bomb exploded aboard a Boeing 747 over Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York in December 1988. All 259 people on board were killed, and another 11 people died on the ground.

US Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him on Wednesday, after Minter said Mas'ud's family was unable to retain a defense lawyer on their own.

Minter said Mas'ud has no substantial assets and has not been employed for a decade. He makes mortgage payments on a home in Libya, and his children help cover his living and medical expenses.

[From a Fox News report:]

Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi's arraignment was (...) pushed back to Feb 8.

US Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya formally appointed federal public defender Whitney Minter to represent him Wednesday, Reuters reported. (...)

Upadhyaya also set a Feb 23 date for a detention hearing.

Thursday 16 November 2023

Dismayed by a 35-year-long miscarriage of justice

[What follows is excerpted from a report published yesterday evening on the website of The Telegraph:]

Ever since Flora was killed on Pan Am Flight 103, Dr Jim Swire has been searching for answers – and says the FBI has the wrong man

Flora Swire is everywhere in her parents’ home. There are sketches and photos of her pinned to a board in the kitchen, on the mantelpiece, on the cover of a book; her portrait fills the wall across from their bed. There remains too a lock of her hair – a heartbreaking keepsake taken when the Swires saw her last, almost 35 years ago, after a bomb exploded beneath her feet in the Lockerbie disaster.

It was on 21 December 1988, the eve of her 24th birthday, that Flora, a promising neurology student who had just been accepted to do a PhD at Cambridge, took her seat on a plane bound for New York. She had hoped to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, but would never make it.

Thirty-eight minutes after taking off at Heathrow, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in the sky over the town of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway, with such force on a windy night that the debris landed across an 845-square-mile radius from southwest Scotland to the east coast of England. The fairylights on Christmas trees all over Lockerbie blew their fuses, along with the rest of the grid; smoking orange flames illuminated the town, which quickly filled with the stench of jet fuel. (...)

The investigation has remained open ever since, with one man, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan national, the only person ever to be convicted of the atrocity. He was convicted in 2001 and given a life sentence, and died in 2012. But in February this year, the case returned to the courts for the first time in more than two decades.

Another Libyan national, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (known as Mas’ud) has been accused of making the Lockerbie bomb, and is now awaiting trial (he has pleaded not guilty). The development should offer some shred of hope for the families whose lives irreparably changed that night. Yet Dr Jim Swire, Flora’s father, ‘has no interest’ in the prospect of Mas’ud’s conviction.

‘I know he didn’t make the bomb,’ Jim tells me. ‘I know who made the bomb.’

As such, the official criminal verdict on events to date – upcoming trial included – is, in his view at least, nothing more than ‘twaddle’.

Jim, now 87, had been writing Christmas cards on that December night in 1988 when his wife Jane told him that a plane had just come down over Scotland. He tried calling Heathrow, where Flora had been dropped off by her younger sister, Cathy, a few hours earlier – he spent five hours on hold to Pan Am as news coverage blared, showing body parts hanging from a roof, the 30ft hole a chunk of the 747 had left in a Lockerbie street, and relatives howling in anguish at JFK Airport. When he finally got through, staff confirmed the worst possible news: Flora had been on the flight. (...)

Jim, an old Etonian who went to Cambridge, is still spry in his late 80s – part-raconteur, part activist, wearing a sharp grey suit and trainers. Today, Jim, who became a GP but ultimately left the profession after his daughter’s death, and Jane, 84, take turns bustling between the kitchen and back garden of their home in the Cotswolds town of Chipping Camden with offers of cheese sandwiches and cups of tea. It is a cosy idyll that conceals the sea of names and dates and evidence-tag numbers still etched on their minds.

Some 35 years on, the Swires’ agony remains barely beneath the surface, the memories of their eldest child both a precious gift and cruel reminder of what they have lost. ‘To lose a close family member gives you a life sentence immediately,’ Jim says. ‘Your whole life is altered. And you have to start asking yourself how, how can you go on living, or how can Jane go on living, with a loss so terrible as this?’

Their experiences are documented in Lockerbie, a new four-part documentary that airs on Sky next week. It is a panoptic watch, following the lives of the residents in the town that was, until that day, just a fish ’n’ chip pitstop, 75 miles from Glasgow, before it was completely upturned. The documentary follows the families of UK and US victims, and officials from across the town’s police force, the FBI and the CIA, too. But it also lays bare how devastation led to remarkable acts of humanity, as residents mounted a volunteer effort to wash the clothes and teddies scattered thousands of miles from where they should have ended up, and sent them back to passengers’ loved ones; some of which resulted in relationships with grief-stricken families an ocean away that remain strong. Their lives are, now, forever intertwined.

But underlying the heartfelt stories is a darker thread – for decades on, opinions about who was to blame for the disaster are more divided than ever.

Jim remains dismayed by what he sees as a 35-year-long miscarriage of justice. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, he became the spokesperson for the UK Families Flight 103 group and in the intervening decades, he has met numerous experts and officials, and had independent reviews of evidence undertaken. All of which has convinced him that justice has not been served – and that the wrong man was imprisoned, just as another ‘wrong man’ is now about to be tried.

His theory – that Libya wasn’t responsible for the bombing – runs counter to al-Megrahi’s conviction and Mas’ud’s arrest, and has been dismissed by many. But there are others in his corner, too. ‘Enough honest, reliable and knowledgeable people have discovered the awful truth behind this to know that the truth will now be able to look after itself,’ Jim says. ‘If I die tomorrow, I know the truth will eventually come out.’

Among those people is former CIA investigator John Holt, the long-time handler for the principal US government witness at al-Megrahi’s trial, Libyan agent Abdul Majid Giaka. Holt said at the time that Giaka never provided ‘any evidence pointing to Libya or any indication of knowing anything about that nation’s involvement in the two years after the bombing’ – despite later testifying. But when accused of lying under cross-examination, Giaka replied: ‘I had no interest in telling anybody any lies.’

Others who have been vocal about what they view as Libya’s wrongful implication include solicitor Clare Connelly, director of the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit, an independent project established by the School of Law of the University of Glasgow, and other UK relatives, including John Moseley [sic], whose 19-year-old daughter Helga was killed on Flight 103.

Al-Megrahi’s trial took place 22 years ago at Camp Zeist, a Scottish law court set up in the Netherlands (deemed a neutral territory), where judges heard that he had placed a bomb in a Samsonite suitcase. Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, his co-accused, was acquitted.

There was no smoking gun for the prosecution, but al-Megrahi was found guilty based on a series of links they felt couldn’t otherwise be explained: including that he had an office in Switzerland down the hall from a clockmaker whose device was used to make the bomb; and that clothing fragments found alongside remains of the bomb were traced back to a Maltese shop that its owner, Tony Gauci, said al-Megrahi had visited.

At the same time, there were escalating tensions between the West and Libyan premier Colonel Gaddafi, who was suspected to have ordered the bombing of a nightclub frequented by US personnel in West Berlin in 1986. Judges in al-Megrahi’s trial conceded the case included ‘a number of uncertainties and qualifications’; yet he was sentenced to life. (Libya later paid $2.7 billion to families of Lockerbie bombing victims, though this was considered a political move rather than an admission of guilt.) (...)

Time has only bolstered his defence of ‘poor’ al-Megrahi, having formed personal relationships with both him and Gaddafi before they died. They would exchange Christmas cards, and when al-Megrahi was given compassionate release in 2009 following a diagnosis of prostate cancer – returning to a hero’s welcome on the tarmac at Tripoli airport – Jim travelled to Libya to see him on his deathbed. At the time, Jim recalled al-Megrahi’s words to him: ‘I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora. I will tell her that her father is my friend.’

He was, in Jim’s eyes, only ever an unwitting pawn in geopolitically motivated ‘deception’ that he says is even now preventing justice for Flora and the other victims from being served. He also took a handful of clandestine trips to Gaddafi’s compound (he did not tell any authorities, and only informed Jane imminently beforehand), in which he would hear that the regime had not been to blame. On leaving their first meeting, Jim pinned a UK Families Flight 103 badge to Gaddafi’s lapel as a show of solidarity for the truth. He believes other UK families are onside, although many have never spoken publicly. But there are certainly others, particularly those in the US, who see this affinity with Gaddafi as a grave error.

For Jim, there are two pieces of evidence that point to al-Megrahi’s wrongful conviction. The 2001 case heard that the explosive had first travelled from Malta to Frankfurt, where Flight 103 began its journey to New York. (The London Heathrow stop was a layover.) But Jim believes the bomb was planted at Heathrow. At al-Megrahi’s appeal in 2002, a baggage handler told lawyers that the baggage build-up area at Terminal 3 had been broken into the night before the bombing.

The other piece of evidence relates to the bomb fragments. According to John Ashton, a researcher on al-Megrahi’s legal team, documents not disclosed during the original trial found differences between the metals of the timers being supplied to the Libyans at the time and those within the fragments police recovered from the Lockerbie site. The circuit-board patterns, however, did align, deemed to be the more important evidence.

Clare Connelly of the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit also questions the veracity of shopkeeper Tony Gauci’s evidence, as there have been claims that he was paid in connection with his participation in the inquiry, which she says would be ‘totally contrary to the interests of justice’. But in November 2013 the Crown Office said: ‘No witness was offered any inducement by the Crown or the Scottish police before and during the trial and there is no evidence that any other law ­enforcement agency offered such an inducement.’

As for who was actually responsible, Jim argues it was Iran, not Libya. He goes on to suggest that it might have been a retaliatory attack for the US shooting down an Iranian passenger plane, thought to have been incorrectly identified as a fighter jet in July 1988, which killed 290 innocent civilians. In his view, with American hostages held in Iran at the time and an upcoming election, the finger had to be pointed elsewhere. ‘What we’re being told is absolute nonsense from beginning to end. It was designed to protect the relationship between Britain and America and to help in getting home American hostages held by Iranian interests back in ’88.’

Jim insists that the bombmaker was not Mas’ud, as the US alleges, but ‘a Jordanian who was a double agent, or even a triple agent’ – feeding intelligence both to his own country and the CIA, while making explosives for a militant group active in Palestine at the time, called the PFLP-GC. Others have theories of their own around Iran’s involvement: Holt has also said ‘there was a concerted effort, for unexplained reasons, to switch the original investigations away from Iran and the PFLP-GC’ – backing Jim’s belief that the focus on Libya was politically motivated.

For the officials who spent years putting together their case, however, Jim’s theory is not credible enough to upend ‘the biggest case the FBI ever had… I don’t believe, in the history of law enforcement, there was a crime quite like Pan Am 103.’ So says Richard Marquise, who led the FBI investigation. ‘I will never attack [Jim], I will never tell him he’s a liar or wrong. I will never say a negative thing, because I cannot feel his pain; I am sure it’s enormous. But I disagree with his assessment of the evidence.’ (...)

For Jim, his ‘obsession’ has been an outlet for the pain of losing Flora. As he puts it: ‘It has provided me with a way of coping with my grief.’

As for Jane, she has had little choice but to accept her husband’s dogged pursuit of answers; something Jim is painfully aware of. ‘[I often think] what is it doing to Jane, that I’m still doing this?’ he admits. (...)

There is another source of anguish for the Swires – a series of missteps without which Flora may never have boarded Flight 103 in the first place.

In late October 1988, West German police found a bomb hidden inside a Toshiba radio cassette player in an apartment in Neuss, believed to have been manufactured to detonate mid-air. The British Department of Transport (DoT) went on to warn airports and airlines of its existence via telex the next month.

Then, on 5 December, an anonymous threat was phoned in to the US embassy in Helsinki, stipulating that within two weeks, someone would carry a bomb on to a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the US. Notices were put up on embassy walls, and US officials were told they could rebook on another flight home for Christmas if they so wished; Interpol informed 147 countries, Britain included – yet the ‘Helsinki warning’ was never made public.

Two days before Lockerbie, a circular featuring images of the explosives authorities feared had been designed to blow up planes was signed by the DoT’s principal aviation security advisor, but never sent out. (...)

Jim would like there to be an examination of the evidence in the International Criminal Court. He sees this as the only possible route to justice now – but each passing year makes it less likely.

‘Our numbers are dropping all the time from people dying off from old age,’ he says of the families’ group, ‘and I’m amazed that I haven’t long ago because the stress all this has been over the last 35 years – why I haven’t died of a heart attack, I don’t know… But I would love it if [the truth] were to come out while we were still around.’

John Dower, director of the new documentary, says that his main hope is that those involved in it will ‘get some resolution, some peace, because that’s what struck us most making this, the ongoing trauma. It’s 35 years later, but that trauma is still there.’

Lockerbie will be on Sky Documentaries and Now from 25 November

Sunday 11 June 2023

Colonel Gaddafi knew Lockerbie bomber was innocent

[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the Mirror newspaper website:]

A confidante of Colonel Gaddafi, who was assassinated in 2011 by Libyan rebel forces, said he allowed the Lockerbie bomber to be jailed for the attack despite knowing of his innocence

Colonel Gaddafi knew the Lockerbie bomber was innocent of mass murder but let him rot in prison in a political deal, his close adviser has said.

Daad Sharab, 61, was the Libyan dictator’s confidante for 22 years and visited Abdelbaset al-Megrahi three times in prison in Scotland.

The Libyan intelligence officer agreed to drop his appeal against his life sentence in return for his return to Libya on health grounds in 2009.

Now another former Libyan intelligence officer, Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, 71, is to go on trial in the US over the attack.

He is accused of building the bomb that downed Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988, killing all 259 on board and 11 people in Lockerbie. (...)

Sharab fears the trial will again implicate al-Megrahi. Speaking from her home in Jordan, Sharab said: “I believe that Megrahi was framed.

“He fulfilled his commitment to Gaddafi and went to trial even though he knew he was innocent.

“Gaddafi made a deal with the British then to lift sanctions.” Megrahi was jailed in 2001.

A Maltese shopkeeper testified he sold him clothing found in the case that held the bomb.

But writing to the King of Jordan in a letter Sharab delivered, al-Megrahi said: “I never in my life bought any clothes from any store in Malta.”

Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was a victim, said of al-Megrahi and a co-defendant: “I went into court thinking I was going to see the trial of those responsible for the murder.

“I came out thinking he had been framed.”

Gaddafi had Sharab imprisoned but she escaped, after 19 months, amid 2011’s Arab Spring uprising and went on to write The Colonel and I: My Life with Gaddafi.

Megrahi died aged 60 in 2012.

[The Daily Express has now picked up this story: Lockerbie bomber was framed by Colonel Gaddafi and took the fall for Pan Am atrocity.]

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Legal bid to give Lockerbie families access to Masud trial

[This is the headline over a report published today on the BBC News website. It reads in part:]

US politicians are being asked to allow people from 21 countries to listen live to the second Lockerbie bombing trial.

A Libyan man is currently in US custody, accused of making the device that destroyed Pan Am 103 on 21 December, 1988.

Of the 270 victims, 190 were from the US, 43 from the UK and the remaining from 19 other nations.

American prosecutors say their families should have access to a phone line to allow them to follow the case.

Trials in US federal courts are not televised and a judge has previously ruled there is no legal basis for allowing such a move.

Abu Agila Masud was handed over to the US authorities in as yet unexplained circumstances in Libya in December 2022.

Appearing in a Washington court under his full name Abu Agila Mohammed Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi, the convicted bomb maker faces several charges, including destruction of an aircraft resulting in death.

He has entered a not guilty plea and so far no date for a trial has been set. (...)

Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice say many of the relatives of the victims are too old or infirm to travel to Washington to watch the court proceedings in person.

In their request to US lawmakers, they said: "This combination of advanced age and geographic distance and dispersion from Washington DC means that many victims face significant obstacles to obtain meaningful access to the court proceedings."

The application by the US prosecutors defines "victims" as anyone who suffered "direct or proximate harm" by the bombing, was present at or near the scene when it occurred or immediately afterwards, and their relatives.

On one view, that could include people in Lockerbie who witnessed the crash and its aftermath, along with members of the emergency services and military.

The American prosecutors also argue that the US investigation has involved international co-operation, in particular from police and the Crown Office in Scotland.

They are seeking statutory authority for the court to allow "remote video and telephone access" to preliminary evidential hearings and the trial itself.

Although video is mentioned, the application specifically requests the approval of a dedicated listen-only telephone line. (...)

The first Lockerbie trial took place at a specially-convened Scottish court sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. Relatives of the victims were able to watch via remote video feeds in Scotland and the US.

That case ended with the conviction of Abdulbasset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life. (...) 

Scottish and American prosecutors alleged that the bombing was the work of the Libyan intelligence service and others were involved along with Megrahi.

The US justice department first announced criminal charges against Abu Agila Masud in December 2020.

They have alleged that he confessed to making the Lockerbie bomb after he was taken into custody following the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi's government in 2012.

Monday 17 April 2023

For 34 years the US has doggedly pushed a false narrative

[What follows is excerpted from an article published yesterday on The Intel Drop website:]

The greatest cover up since JFK – The Lockerbie bombing – might be coming apart at the seams, Martin Jay writes.

Like Afghanistan, Libya, a country rich in oil wealth and underpopulated, is heading towards being branded another major NATO f***-up as analysts worry that delayed elections, the hilarious farce of now having two rival prime ministers in office and an economy in freefall, could all point to rival factions returning to war. (...)

In early January, CIA chief William Burns has met with one of Libya’s rival prime ministers, the government in the country’s capital of Tripoli confirmed on January 12th, stirring some controversy, given how rare it is for CIA chief to do such a political stunt.

Libya, we should note, is a divided house. In Tripoli, its incumbent government – whose militias allow it to control important institutions like the central bank for example – is largely supported by the US and Turkey, while its eastern bloc, which is where its parliament is based, is controlled and funded by a number of Arab countries and Russia. (...)

But what on earth is the CIA chief doing in Tripoli?

Barely a month has passed since the US illegally extradited a Libyan intelligence officer, to keep a fake news campaign in the US alive which blames Libya for the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, and Burns rocks up to the Libyan capital.

The Tripoli-based government said CIA Director William Burns and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah discussed cooperation, economic and security issues. It also posted a hand-shaking photo of the two on one of its social media pages.

Burns’ visit followed the surprise extradition last month of a former Libyan intelligence officer accused of making the bomb that exploded on a commercial flight above Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing all onboard and 11 people on the ground.

In December, Washington announced that Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, wanted by the United States for his role in bringing down the New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 since 2020, was in their custody and would face trial. His handover by Dbeibah’s government raised questions of its legality inside Libya, which does not have a standing agreement on extradition with the United States. Dbeibah’s mandate remains highly contested after planned elections did not take place in late 2021. (...)

Given Biden’s moronic handling of US troops leaving Afghanistan, one has to ask, has he made an error in Libya which is worrying him now? The rendition of the Libyan officer is almost certainly illegal and it might have surprised Biden just how much international press coverage it received. Did Biden send Burns to give some moral support to the incumbent prime minister in Tripoli who refused to stand down when the eastern parliament attempted to install their own prime minister just recently? What was the deal struck between the CIA and Dbeibah and why did Burns need to actually visit him and pose with him for a Facebook photo stunt? Was this a signal to the eastern bloc that the US is going to stand firm with their man, if war breaks out again?

Add to that, that it is only a question of time before American families of the doomed Pan Am 103 flight which crashed in Lockerbie at Christmas 1988 will wake up and smell the coffee.

For 34 years, the US has doggedly pushed a false narrative which has blamed the Libyans. And they have succeeded to some extent, largely because the truth about Lockerbie is so incredible that few Americans would believe it, if they were to be presented with it.

Incredibly, Pan Am 103 was a ‘controlled flight’ by CIA agents which was carrying drugs placed on board by terrorist groups which Reagan needed to keep happy, while negotiating the freedom of US hostages in Beirut. Iran discovered this arrangement – as those groups in Lebanon were ideologically aligned to Tehran and later became Hezbollah – and decided to seek revenge for the US downing of Iranian airliner 655 in the Persian Gulf in July of 1988 by placing their own case on the flight, which they knew would not be examined by CIA officers, as it would be assumed to be drugs. The plotters even went as far as sacrificing one of the young men from the Lebanese group who was on board.

But the interesting detail of the Lockerbie bombing was the extent of how far the plotters went to divert blame to Libya, which the CIA are continuing to do to this day, in a nefarious game so as to extend the big lie of Lockerbie – all so that no US president can be held responsible for possibly the greatest cover-up since JFK.

If the American families today were to jointly begin a legal case of compensation against the US government for murdering their loved ones, who were used as cannon fodder for a twisted, idiotic game that Reagan was playing with terrorist groups in Lebanon, the sums would be staggering and unprecedented. The shock might be so much to the American public that it might create a crisis of confidence in the government and result in widespread insurgency, not to mention a lack of confidence in the US political system.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Further preliminary steps in US prosecution of Abu Ajila Masud

The US Department of Justice has recently released the following information about the criminal proceedings in Washington DC against alleged Lockerbie bomb maker Abu Ajila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi:

"On September 29, 2023, the parties filed a joint status update, informing Judge Dabney L Friedrich of the status of discovery.  The  parties informed Judge Friedrich that the government had provided four productions to the defense and would shortly be providing a fifth, and that it was working on getting additional materials from Scotland and various countries.  The defense stated that it had received the discovery to date and was reviewing it. 

"On October 2, 2023, Judge Friedrich set a 'tentative' status hearing for December 15, 2023, at 1:00 pm in Courtroom 14.  At this point, we have no reason to believe that this status date will change, despite its 'tentative' status.  If it does change, we will notify you as soon as we are able to." 

Wednesday 20 January 2021

The house of cards that is the legal frame-up of Megrahi

[What follows is taken from an article by Steve James published today on the WSWS.org website:]

Five Scottish judges have upheld the 2001 verdict against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

Last week's decision is the second time an appeal on Megrahi's behalf has been rejected by the courts amid the continued suppression of contradictory evidence.

In 2002, an initial appeal was thrown out. In 2009, Megrahi, already terminally ill, was tacitly offered release from Greenock prison on compassionate grounds if a contemporary appeal was dropped as part of rapprochement between the Libyan and British governments. The most recent appeal was launched by Megrahi's son, Ali Al-Megrahi, to clear his father's name posthumously.

The appeal hearing heard from Claire Mitchell QC that Megrahi's original conviction hinged on Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gauci’s uncorroborated identification of Megrahi. She pointed to contradictions in Gauci’s testimony and challenged the trial judges' decision that the clothing was purchased on 7 December 1988, rather than 23 November, which was supported by the evidence. Megrahi was not in Malta in November.

Mitchell noted that while the trial verdict "cherry picked" items from a mass of conflicting evidence, no evidence existed that the bomb started its journey from Malta.

The appeal was allowed to go forward following a decision by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), that a miscarriage of justice may only have occurred because of the manner in which Megrahi was identified by Gauci. Gauci first identified someone else, appeared confused, and was found to have been coached by police in expectation of a huge reward. $2 million was duly paid, a matter about which the trial defence was not informed.

The SCCRC did not consider (...) analysis of the metallurgical characteristics of the alleged bomb timer--proving it was not part of a batch sold to Libya--or devastating evidence of the bomb suitcase entering the luggage system at Heathrow Airport, London, as grounds for appeal.

The reason for the appeal being restricted to Megrahi's identification by Gauci is increasingly clear. Any broader querying of the original verdict threatens to bring down the house of cards that is the legal frame-up of Megrahi.

It is worth recalling some of the contradictions and unconfirmed assertions in the official version of events leading to PA103's destruction, upheld at the 2001 trial and again on two subsequent appeals.

Megrahi was found guilty of loading a suitcase, containing a bomb armed with a complex electronic timer, in Luqa airport, Malta, onto a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. No viable evidence has been presented confirming that such a suitcase existed. No explanation has been given of how Megrahi overcame Luqa's tight security. (...) No explanation has been offered of how Frankfurt airport's X-ray scanning missed a bomb in a cassette recorder when staff had been advised to look out for one.

From Frankfurt, the feeder flight travelled to London’s Heathrow airport, where the bomb was allegedly transferred to Pan Am 103. No such suitcase has been identified.

Not accounted for is the fact that a suitcase closely resembling the one containing the bomb appeared unexpectedly at Heathrow airport before the feeder flight from Frankfurt arrived and was reportedly inserted onto PA103 at Heathrow.

This suitcase was seen by witnesses on the floor of the luggage container in which the explosion later occurred. No explanation or significance has been attached to a break in at Heathrow airport, where security was poor, the night before, adjacent to the luggage loading area for PA103.

The explosion that destroyed the Boeing 747 took place 38 minutes after take-off from Heathrow. This is exactly the time at which a well-known design of barometric bomb, triggered by a fall in air pressure, would explode had one been loaded at Heathrow.

Barometric bombs of this design were, at the time, being manufactured in Germany by a Syrian backed Palestinian group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a group with a history of aircraft bombing. Four of these bombs were seized by German police, a fifth went missing for unexplained reasons.

No explanation has been offered of why the stated design of electronic timer, an MST-13 manufactured by Swiss company MeBo-AG, would not be set to explode at a time much later, over the Atlantic, where any evidence would sink to the ocean floor.

Nor has an explanation been offered as to why evidence relating to the belated appearance of a fragment of MST-13 timer in the Lockerbie wreckage showed evidence of having been doctored, as had the records relating to its discovery. Or why this timer fragment has subsequently been proved NOT to be part of a consignment of timers admittedly sold to Libya by Mebo-AG.

Days before the appeal hearing, the judges ruled that documentation in the possession of the British government since shortly after PA103 was brought down should remain hidden, upholding a public interest immunity certificate signed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in August this year. One of Raab's predecessors, Labour's David Miliband, signed a similar order in 2008 before Megrahi's previous appeal was dropped.

Carloway upheld Raab's view that the documentation was relevant but revealing it would "damage counter-terrorism liaison and intelligence gathering between the UK and other states".

The documentation is reportedly a letter from then Jordanian ruler, King Hussein, an ally of the Western powers and a CIA asset, implicating Jordanian intelligence agent and PFLP-GC supporter Marween Khreesat in making the bomb. King Hussein claimed the attack was revenge commissioned by the Iranian government for the US Vincennes' shoot-down of an Iran Airbus at the cost of 255 lives in July 1988. Khreesat was arrested as part of the group that was making bombs in Germany in 1988, but was quickly released. He died in Syria in 2016.

Another remarkable intervention on the eve of the appeal, which coincided with the December 21 anniversary of the disaster, came from outgoing US Justice Secretary William Barr.

Barr announced charges against the hitherto little-known Libyan, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi (Masud), whom Barr accused of helping Megrahi make the bomb used in the attack and whose extradition to the US is now being sought. Barr claimed the then-Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi personally thanked Masud for his efforts. Masud has been held in a Libyan jail since 2012. Gaddafi's government was violently overthrown by the US and European war machine, and Libya pitched into a catastrophic and ongoing civil war in 2011, but this claim of involvement only surfaced years later.

Barr has a history with the Lockerbie case. Prior to his installation by Donald Trump in 2019, he was known for a series of cover-ups arising from his first period as US Attorney General, between 1991 and 1993, during George H W Bush's term as US President, arising from the successive debacles of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

It was on Barr's watch that Bush handed out pardons to senior state officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, including former defence secretary Caspar Weinburger, who had been charged with crimes of perjury, lying to Congress and obstruction of justice.

Barr oversaw a fundamental shift in the focus of investigation into the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 from the PFLP-GC and Iran to Libya, and announced the November 14, 1991 indictments against Megrahi, and his then co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah.

The transition took place during US preparations for the assault on Iraq in the first Gulf War, launched earlier in 1991. Prior to the war, US officials shuttled around the various Arab regimes in the Middle East seeking support and acquiescence in the planned bloodbath. Then Secretary of State James Baker visited Syria repeatedly and extracted regime support for the assault on neighbouring Iraq. Iran remained neutral.

Speaking of Lockerbie when the war was over and days after the unexpected indictment of the two Libyans, Bush said, "A lot of people thought it was the Syrians. The Syrians took a bum rap on this."

None of this mattered to the Scottish judges. Instead, the 64-page verdict sought to strengthen the case against Megrahi by attributing sinister significance to entries in co-accused Fhimah's diary referring to "luggage tags". Fhimah, however, was acquitted in the original 2001 trial. Both men worked at the airport.

Speaking outside the court, lawyer Aamer Anwar said Megrahi's family were heartbroken by the verdict and intend to take the case to the UK Supreme Court. Jim Swire, 84, whose daughter Flora died in the disaster said, "For a long time I have been persuaded that it isn’t likely the truth will come out during my time left on the planet."

[RB: Another recent article can be read here: Lockerbie 32 years on: imperialism, framings and cover-ups.]